Cheating scandal: Kylie’s husband’s affair during Iran jail hell
It was the ultimate betrayal. Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert spent 804 days in Iranian prisons, mostly in solitary confinement in a 3m x 2m cell with not enough warm clothes or blankets for the freezing temperatures.
She also went through psychological torture, with other prisoners at the same jails saying that they were regularly forced into fake executions.
But back in Australia, her Russian-Israeli husband Ruslan Hodorov was having an affair with her University of Melbourne colleague and PhD supervisor Dr Kylie Baxter.
Despite sources revealing some other people were aware of the affair, Dr Moore-Gilbert would only learn of the betrayal after arriving back in Australia in November last year.
The University of Melbourne was informed of Dr Baxter and Mr Hodorov's relationship on November 29 last year, two days after Dr Moore-Gilbert landed in Australia.
Dr Moore-Gilbert, 33, is now divorcing Mr Hodorov, who was next of kin and a point of contact for the Australian government advisers working on her case.
He kept up the facade of a doting husband to her family during her jail ordeal on spying charges she always strongly denied.
Friends of the couple revealed Mr Hodorov, 31, and Dr Baxter, 43, who was married with children, secretly began their affair about a year after Dr Moore-Gilbert's arrest, which was in September 2018.
Mr Hodorov had been keeping Dr Moore-Gilbert's family, who live in Bathurst, NSW, informed of work on her case.
They only found out about his new relationship at the same time as Dr Moore-Gilbert.
Dr Baxter, who was also a lecturer in Middle East studies at the University of Melbourne, had told colleagues she was in direct contact with Dr Moore-Gilbert's family, when she was voluntarily campaigning on her behalf.
Dr Baxter travelled to the US in 2019 to visit Scholars at Risk, which is headquartered at New York University.
The group provides "advisory and referral services" to more than 300 academics across the world, who were "suffering grave threats to their lives."
In a lecture that Dr Baxter gave on Academic Freedom for a new course she was hoping to set up, she said that "the university has approved me to go to New York in November".
She said the course would help "influence Australian government policy" on cases of detained academics.
"In an ideal crazy part of the Baxter world, in five years' time, a DFAT meeting would be at least cognisant that the Melbourne Uni project was taking on a particular case," Dr Baxter told students.
"Is it with public petitions, is it interviews, is it media, how do we best influence policy?"
However, it was understood that the New York trip was not funded by the university, nor did it ask or authorise Dr Baxter to speak on its behalf about Dr Moore-Gilbert's case.
Dr Baxter and some of her colleagues volunteered to be involved in Dr Moore-Gilbert's case, but were not asked for help by the university.
The volunteer group kept in contact with the university about what other staff, human rights groups and students had been saying, but they were not part of the official team, according to sources familiar with the matter.
That official team, of which Dr Baxter was not included and received no funds from, was backed with significant investment in staff and money, sources said.
Dr Baxter informed the University of Melbourne of her relationship with Mr Hodorov on November 29, 2020, after Dr Moore-Gilbert had landed back in Australia, and eight months after she had resigned from the university.
Some of Dr Moore-Gilbert's colleagues and supporters were aware of the relationship before the disclosure to the university. The University of Melbourne said it would not comment on Dr Moore-Gilbert's private life.
"The University is grateful that Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert has returned to Australia and is recovering with family and friends," a statement said.
"Our priority is her health and wellbeing. We are looking forward to her returning to campus when she is ready.
"We will not be commenting on Kylie's private life."
The shock at Mr Hodorov's new relationship would have been immense for Dr Moore-Gilbert, who vigorously defended him while she was in jail.
She refused a fiendish plot by her captors, the ruthless Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC), who wanted her to lure Mr Hodorov there as a trap.
A letter from Dr Moore-Gilbert to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, smuggled out of Evin prison in Iran to this newspaper in late 2019, revealed how the IRGC had tried to set a trap for Mr Hodorov, whom they wrongly suspected of being an Israeli spy.
This newspaper was aware of the IRGC's erroneous suspicions about Mr Hodorov's links with Israel in September 2019, but chose not to publish to avoid harming Dr Moore-Gilbert's chances of release.
"The Revolutionary Guard have imprisoned me in these terrible conditions for over nine months in order to extort me both personally and my government," Dr Moore-Gilbert wrote to the PM.
"They have also attempted to use me as a hostage in a diabolical plot to lure my husband, an Australian permanent resident (and soon to be new citizen) into joining me in an Iranian prison."
Dr Moore-Gilbert married Mr Hodorov in 2017. They were still in the honeymoon period when she left for a trip to Iran.
Mr Hodorov maintained a blog before Dr Moore-Gilbert's arrest where he discussed his early life in Russia before he moved to Israel in the 1990s.
About one million Russian Jews moved to Israel at the time, following the fall of the Soviet Union as they felt persecuted there.
Among discussions about his studies and views on sustainability, he also talked about his insecurities and also wrote about his leadership aspirations, quoting famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy.
Part of that letter defending Mr Hodorov, which included details of Dr Moore-Gilbert's hunger strike plan, was reported by this newspaper on Christmas Eve, 2019, prompting Mr Morrison to respond to her case at a press conference that day.
It was around this time, or slightly earlier, that Australia's top spy Nick Warner, who was Australia's ambassador to Iran in the 1990s, began a campaign to free Dr Moore-Gilbert.
Mr Warner was able to use back channels gained during his time as ambassador to speak directly with the IRGC, the military in Iran who in some cases have more power than the government.
Dr Moore-Gilbert had been held a 3m x 2m cell in unit 2a of Evin prison for most of her sentence. Prisoners in that unit are given only three blankets, one to use as a mattress, one to keep warm and one as a pillow.
In a tweet on December 26, 2020, Dr Moore-Gilbert described some of the conditions when referring to another prisoner: "She is blindfolded every time she leaves her small, cold, empty cell. She is even masked and blindfolded when taken to the outdoor 'exercise' area. If she refuses, she will be handcuffed and dragged there by force. No one has heard from her since her transfer.
Unit 2a was controlled by the powerful IRGC, meaning that the Australian government needed to negotiate with them, rather than the Tehran government.
Dr Moore-Gilbert's freedom was co-ordinated with the help of Thailand, who released three failed terrorists, including one who had blown his own legs off, on the same day as her.
Days after Dr Moore-Gilbert's release, Iran's propaganda machine released a series of videos erroneously claiming that Mr Hodorov was a spy.
WHO IS RUSLAN HODOROV?
It was the fairytale dream that became a nightmare.
Ruslan Hodorov followed Kylie Moore-Gilbert around the world, from Israel to Cambridge in England, where she was studying, and finally to Australia.
They'd set up home in Melbourne's outer east, where Dr Moore-Gilbert bought a house, shortly before she was arrested at Tehran's International Airport in September 2018 on trumped up spying charges that she has always denied.
Ruslan Hodorov and Kylie Moore-Gilbert met almost a decade ago in Israel before they finally married in 2017 in a traditional Jewish ceremony at Mt Baw Baw in Victoria's east.
Mr Hodorov packed his belongings for Cambridge, where Dr Moore-Gilbert, a dual UK-Australian national was studying. Mr Hodorov did not study while he was there.
When Dr Moore-Gilbert finished her Masters they moved to Melbourne.
Most of Mr Hodorov's online presence has been scrubbed, except for a 5798 word blog, where he poured out his fears, insecurities and complaints about trying to find his way in Australia.
In 2016, he wrote that he walked away from a "full-time management position" to study a "Bachelor Of Science Advanced Global Challenges".
He complained about approaching the "big 3-0" although he acknowledged that he had a supportive relationship. "Have you ever felt bogged-down in trying to solve something alone, or buried under a workload?" he wrote.
"Relationships are important for many reasons, and one of them is that they can help us gain this perspective, overcome mental barriers or provide a shoulder to lean on throughout the journey."
The couple's seemingly fairytale romance came to a shattering halt in 2018 when Dr Moore-Gilbert was arrested by Iranian authorities as she was returning home from a conference.
She would spend the next 804 days imprisoned at Tehran's Evin prison and later in the notorious Qarchark prison, considered one of the worst female jails in the world.
Iranian regime propaganda outlets claimed Mr Hodorov, who migrated to Israel in the early 1990s like more than 1 million other Russian Jews, was a spy.
He did enlist in the Israel Defence Forces, which is compulsory for both men and women when they turn 18.
But there is no evidence to support the espionage claims.
"He was also an officer in the Israeli army. Ruslan, Kylie's husband, after a while started working in a spying establishment under the cover of an Australian Company belonging to one of the members of the (Israeli) internal security services (SHABAK)," a video released by a Twitter account linked to the regime claimed after Dr Moore-Gilbert's release.
However, there is no suggestion that the claims are anything but a fantasy of the paranoid Iranians who were trying to justify keeping Dr Moore-Gilbert under horrific detention conditions.
Dr Moore-Gilbert's letters, smuggled from Evin prison, revealed she had resisted an Iranian plot to get him to travel there to be caught in a trap.
She also refused to become a spy for Iran, saying she would leave the country as a free woman, always denying any spying charges.
When she returned home, according to friends, she expected to wait until after the two weeks' quarantine to be reunited with her husband.
But soon after she arrived she received a message from him saying that it was over and that he had moved on with a new relationship.
That new relationship would be with her former friend and University of Melbourne colleague, Dr Baxter.
Originally published as Ultimate betrayal: Freed academic's cheating scandal